Meaning Therapy

What is Meaning Therapy? Meaning Therapy, also known as meaning-centered counseling and psychotherapy, is an integrative, positive existential approach to counseling and psychotherapy (Wong, 2010). At the center of it is personal meaning and the positive psychology of what makes life worth living despite suffering and limitations. It takes a psycho-educational approach which not only aims to equip clients with tools to navigate through the inevitable challenges of human existence but also aims to provide clients with the tools to create a better future.

Meaning Therapy is not a new branch of psychotherapy, but rather a new concept with a focus on meaning. The simplicity of Meaning Therapy comes from its complete concentration on the client’s inner world of meanings.  The complexity of such therapy is due to the individual differences in our given nature and our perception of life experience, writes Dr. Paul Wong.

Meaning Therapy and Judaism

The central concept of Meaning Therapy can be traced to Viktor Frankl’s (1986) logotherapy, which is translated as Meaning Therapy because it incorporates spirituality and emphasizes the need to relate  and respond to the ultimate meaning of life (Wong, 2010). Frankl, a world-famous psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, found in his quickly-filling practice that patient after patient would come in feeling depressed, but all could not pinpoint a specific cause. They had no trauma or loss of income, or job. Frankl concluded that these patients were depressed because their lives lacked meaning, direction, and purpose. Frankl determined that those without purpose in life will be depressed and should be depressed because at the core of their essence, they are empty.

Frankl adds that feelings of meaninglessness are a direct cause of “the mass neurotic triad of today, i.e. depression-addiction-aggression” (p. 298) A therapist who presents meaning to patients can both empower and challenge them to fill their inner void with sustainable meanings and meanings which transcend the self.  A Meaning Therapy practitioner can effectively facilitate psychotherapy because “by filling the existential vacuum, the patient will be prevented from suffering further relapses.” (Frankl, 1986, p. 130)

The reason man cannot be satisfied with life as is, says Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, is because G-d ultimately created us for a higher purpose and gifted us with a soul. The soul within us cannot settle for a mundane life; our soul demands that we live our lives with purpose. The purpose of life, Rabbi Shafier continues, isn’t to achieve happiness as an end goal, but to live a Torah lifestyle, and happiness will be acquired as a result of our adherence to these Divine laws. Satisfying our physical needs will not bring us the soul fulfillment which we seek because our G-d given soul instinctively knows we were brought into existence for a purpose greater than ourselves. It is that very soul that pushes us to find our own personal meaning in life.